“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” This profound statement was made by the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa, who was born on on this day, August 26 1910. She was an icon of love, tolerance and generosity of spirit.
In fact Mother Teresa epitomised the very opposite of hate.
Sadly, India her home, is witnessing a culture of hate, through ceaseless incidents of violence perpetrated by mobs of varying hues. These include lynch mobs driven by religious fervour, those reacting to unsubstantiated social media messages, cow-vigilantes and even attacks on innocent tourists wrongly labelled as child-kidnappers.
With increasing numbers of such attacks, India’s highest courts said that this cannot be allowed to become a “new normal”. The Supreme Court of India ruled that the State has a “sacrosanct duty to protect its citizens from unruly elements and perpetrators of orchestrated lynching and vigilantism.”
The frustration of the masses, fanned by lack of awareness, seems to have reached a tipping point, with lethal costs. Across the world, politics of division and rhetoric of intolerance are targeting racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, and migrants and refugees. From anti-Semitism to attacks on hijab-wearing women, racism to sexual assault, we can see that words of fear and loathing can, and do, have real consequences.
Recently, Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in America’s National Catholic Register: “The reason the Church names anger as one of the ‘seven deadly sins’ is because it’s simultaneously so poisonous, so delicious and so addictive. Anger congeals quite comfortably into hatred.”
Thought leaders around the world lament the slow poison of hatred encroaching on public discourse and, in particular, on social media. Mahatma Gandhi’s adage seems to be coming true – an eye for an eye means the whole world is going blind.
Where ideas used to take years – and sometimes centuries – to spread around the globe, they now do so in seconds. While this is a force for good in countless ways, it has also enabled the rise of movement-led hatred that is rooted not in nation state identity, but in ideology based on rancorous opposition to a particular faith or race, sexual orientation or to western liberal democracy in general. While such hatred is often based on misinformation or ignorance, these are no barriers to its rapid spread.
Additionally, poisonous ideology finds ready ears among disillusioned youth in many parts of the world. Stuck in poverty, they have no faith in their governments’ will or ability to offer them a future, to gain the education that will allow them to compete on level terms with the rest of the world, and to better their economic situation.
So, what is the antidote to this xenophobia, racism, bigotry and misogyny?
The human spirit is strong, and never stronger than when joining forces for justice. Around the world hatred has been met with purposeful love, and with action engineered to counter the hatred. From the Women’s March in the United States to demonstrations against discrimination in many European countries, people have joined hands to fight hate.
These are hopeful signs, but one must not underestimate the challenge of combating hatred. If hatred is an epidemic, then we need to treat it as such and plan to contain and reverse it.
First, incendiary speeches against any group based on religion, race, gender or sexuality must be prohibited and prosecuted.
Second, citizens standing up against hate must continue to use and expand all available means to engage with others across the world who share their concerns and bolster their ability to affect change.
Third, meaningful change often comes from the bottom up, so citizens must be educated on how they can change their leadership by voting with their conscience –in national, state, municipal and civic body elections.
Fourth, it is the duty of elected officials to reflect the will of the electorate. They must therefore support their citizens with actions and not merely words in the pursuit of social justice.
Fifth, the voices of moral and thought leaders from around the world who espouse tolerance must be amplified. The lessons of acceptance and mutual respect & equality must be heard, especially by the young, because if we teach them that it is unacceptable to hate and that it is their responsibility to speak up to stop hatred spreading, we stack the odds in favour of justice prevailing in the future.
There is a chance to change the world here – to counter hatred with love, anger with joy, and bigotry with acceptance – but it requires the coming together of concerned people around the world. It requires the understanding that, despite our different realities, we have common hopes for ourselves and for our children, as well as common destinies.
The UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres has said, “Diversity enriches us. But if we want diversity to be a success, we need to invest in social cohesion.”
If we can harness this shared humanity, we will bridge the chasms that nurture hate.
Siddharth Chatterjee, a former Indian Army officer, is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. These are his personal views.